Swedish bassist/cellist Lars Danielsson is a master improviser, who completely engages listeners by taking them on journeys of both pleasure and wonder, with themes which are always expressive and song-like. He is far too classy and refined a musician to indulge in superficial virtuosic display. Danielsson's well-honed, naturally lyrical improvisational lines remain at the service of the flow of the music, something particularly noticeable when he steps forward and takes on the role of soloist. These core traits are also there in his extensive and much-praised work as arranger, composer and bandleader. With the group he leads, "Liberetto", he has not only found a catchy name for the ideal band to realise his intentions, but also a formula for his approach: the word he has constructed contains "libretto", a pointer towards the composed, quasi-classical nature of his writing, and also a link to opera and lyricism, whereas the Latin word "liber" refers to the freedom of improvisation, a core principle in jazz. And his unique talent is being increasingly recognized: the most recent Liberetto album from 2021, as Downbeat’s Brian Morton noted, “confirms Danielsson’s stature as a leader/composer”.
Classical music and jazz are the two determining poles of Danielsson's musical career. He says – with a smile – that "the question whether I am a jazz musician would be answered with a ‘yes’ from the musicians in the orchestra...but if I were to ask Wynton Marsalis, it would probably be a ‘no’". Danielsson feels comfortable in the space between classical music and jazz. His first music teacher was a church organist, and the folklore of his native Sweden has also been ever-present in his musical identity. As a young cellist, he played a lot in orchestras. His familiarity with Bach and sacred hymns soon broadened into a love of rock 'n' roll, but that faded away in the mid-seventies with the rise of New Wave, and when he began to listen to jazz. Lars Danielsson was always concerned with defining his own place as a European musician out of this mixture of influences. Although he also played jazz standards in the beginning, he kept on searching: "A lot of different experiences have found their way into my music."
With his double album "Symphonized", Lars Danielsson is now fulfilling a dream. Some of the musicians of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra were his contemporaries at the conservatoire. In 2008, he recorded his own music with this orchestra for the first time. In 2017 the orchestra’s cor anglais (English horn) player Björn Bohlin was allowed to pick a composer to write for the orchestra, and he commissioned Danielsson: 2018 they played the "Concerto for English Horn and Contrabass" live for the first time, then in 2019 the recording took place, this time with Carolina Grinne as soloist on English horn and oboe. Two years later, the opportunity arose to record extra material at the same location. The idea of a "best-of" project with a difference, with pieces from Liberetto in orchestral form, was born. A full orchestra with 79 members and guest soloists was involved, with Peter Nordahl as conductor for both recordings. Nordahl has made a speciality of projects which combine classical and popular music.
The classical-jazz connection is of course, fraught with danger, something of which Lars Danielsson is very aware. This awareness is precisely what makes the "Symphonized" recordings so effective, because he writes for orchestral musicians in the way they are used to, it doesn't cross his mind to ask them to play jazz. "I hope to know my way around their instruments well enough to be able to write for them in a way that sounds the best possible." A cinematic wide-screen music has emerged, with echoes of Claus Ogermann, Nino Rota or Ennio Morricone, perhaps. And from there it is not too far to thoughts of Maurice Ravel, to whom Claude Debussy once said: "Pleasure is the law."
This pleasure is palpable on the recordings. Supple, with timbres and textures in balance, and full of melodic variety, events unfold in a way which creates enjoyment. Lars Danielsson sees a challenge in using the orchestra in a way that leaves organic space for solo instruments. Melody, flow and emotion are central elements of his art. "My music should sound as beautiful as possible," he says, "but it must also be interesting for the performers who are playing it. They should have fun with my compositions. Writing melodies and then hearing them interpreted by the musicians of an orchestra is total magic. On 'Sacred Mind', for example, I didn't play. I just sat in the hall and enjoyed the stunning sound of the orchestra."
It was in 2004 that Lars Danielsson's successful collaboration with ACT began, and his debut release on the label, the album "Libera Me", featured the Danish Radio Concert Orchestra, augmented by a stellar band: Jon Christensen, Nils Petter Molvær, Jan Bang, Caecilie Norby and others. One could hear that particular sound with its lightness and flow, and with it the invitation to spend a good time in the company of truly excellent musicians. For the time being at least, Danielsson could be said to have come full circle. But this story is such a good one, it must – and will – be continued...